Jodie Gibson has moved into contention for a place in England’s Commonwealth Games squad with a scintillating performance that inspired her side to a 61-53 win over Malawi at London’s Copper Box Arena overnight.

 

Starting line up

England
GS Rachel Dunn
GA Kadeen Corbin
WA Natalie Haythornthwaite
C Jade Clarke
WD Beth Cobden
GD Jodie Gibson
GK Ama Agbeze
Changes: Q3 GA Ellie Cardwell, GS Kadeen Corbin, WA Sasha Corbin

Malawi
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Jane Chimaliro
WA Rose Mkanda
C Takondwa Lwazi
WD Julie Sambo
GD Joan Kalchilika
GK Lauren Ngwira
Changes: Q3 GS Jessica Mazengera-Sanudi, GA Kumwenda

 

Despite being a long-term member of England’s match day squad, this was only Gibson’s second full game for the Roses. Gibson took full advantage, using her height, vision and foot speed to take a series of dazzling interceptions in the first few minutes of the game, continuing to dominate in defence throughout the fast paced and, at times, highly physical match.

“We had to start strongly today,” Gibson said after the game, “as it was important to take the momentum from Malawi and I think that we did that really well.”

“It was a whole team defensive effort, which led to so many turnovers and I’m delighted that I was able to pick up so many. Mwawi Kumwenda is such an asset and I think what made the difference was that we stopped the connections to her or at least made them hard to find.”

England knew that, after the errors of the first test, a focused defensive effort would be necessary to take control of the game early on and ensure Malawi could not start to build a lead. Both teams seemed rattled in the first few minutes, with basic errors followed up by dazzling intercepts, but it was Gibson who settled the ship for England after four minutes of play, dragging a ball seemingly destined for the second tier of the stadium back into court, which was duly turned into a goal by Rachel Dunn.

A run of seven goals gave England some breathing space and despite a sensational feed into the Malawi circle from midcourt by Julie Sambo, which had the crowd on their feet, the home side stood firm to lead 16-9 at the first change.

Malawi refused to bow to the increased defensive pressure mounted by England in the second period and used careful and considered sideways passing, combined with the occasional aerial bomb, to keep the English defenders guessing.

In attack, Wasps clubmates Natalie Haythornthwaite and Rachel Dunn showed great understanding to open up space in the circle where seemingly none existed and were ably supported by a measured performance by Kadeen Corbin at goal attack. With Gibson pulling off intercept after flying intercept, the scoreboard stood firm at 31-25 in the Roses’ favour at half time.

With one eye to the upcoming Quad Series and Commonwealth Games, both teams introduced new faces for the second half, with Ellie Cardwell once again coming in to GA for England and Kadeen Corbin moving to GS. Malawi coach Mary Waya introduced Wezzie Mzemba to WD to counteract the space available to Haythornthwaite.

The quarter was nip and tuck, with neither side prepared to give ground, but with the Malawian challenges becoming increasingly physical, England needed to settle. Cardwell proved to be the person to do this for the side, netting a series of clean shots from midrange to keep England ahead, despite the physical presence of Lauren Ngwira and Joana Kachilika.

Following another heavy challenge, Haythornthwaite left the court to be replaced by Sasha Corbin at WA, but the change did not bring a new impetus to the home side. Malawi’s self-belief and patience in working the ball through court allowed them to close the gap slightly to trail by just five goals heading into the last quarter.

Gibson and Severn Stars teammate Cardwell sparkled in the final period of the game, while for Malawi, Kumwenda moved to GA after an injury to shooting partner Jane Chimaliro. However, Kumwenda was often guilty of trying to do too much across the attacking third. Though her presence seemed to speed up the Malawi attack, which in turn disrupted England’s own offensive structure.

Gibson and England captain Ama Agbeze settled the ship in the final minutes, but there was always the sensation that Malawi could come back into the game. It was a relieved Tracey Neville who shook the hand of Mary Waya at the final whistle.

With the series now won by England, the stage would seem to be set for Neville to test her squad members in the final match of the series, with one eye to the upcoming Commonwealth Games and team selections.

Asked about her chances of making the trip to the Gold Coast, Gibson was in buoyant mood, “That was a real team effort and I really enjoyed it. Hopefully I’m giving Tracey a selection headache.”

On her performance today, her place on the plane to Australia would seem to be almost assured.

 

England Roses 61 def Malawi Queens 53
Player of the Match – Jodie Gibson (England)

England
Dunn 18/21 86%
Corbin 28/29 96%
Cardwell 15/18 83%
61/68 90%

Malawi
Kumwenda 34/35 97%
Chimaliro 15/15 100%
Mazengera-Sanudi 4/4 100%
53/54 98%

 

Cover photo: Simon Leonard